Thursday, 15 August 2019

Hey Baby, Welcome to the Sixties! (Rosemary's Baby by Ira Levin)
(Warning: Discussion of marital rape.)


"The Bramford will change from a bad house to a good house when one of its doors is marked R. and G. Woodhouse." - Ira Levin, Rosemary's Baby, page 21

When I saw this book on the library shelf, the title rang a faint bell. Turns out it's a bit of a horror classic, though it's not particuarly scary in terms of making you jump at the dark (though, I admit, I did shriek when I heard the letterbox this morning). Instead, there's a threatening undercurrent all of the way through. You know there's something wrong, but you have to keep reading to find out what. I picked it up on Friday evening only meaning to read one chapter. A couple of hours later, at five past midnight, I had read the whole book.

Rosemary and Guy Woodhouse have a perfectly decent, brand new apartment to move into, but instead they choose to move into the Gothic monster of a building that is The Bramford. After they become acquainted with Roman and Minnie Castevet, an elderly couple a few doors down, everything starts going their way. Guy's acting career takes off and Rosemary finally falls pregnant. She's delighted, but the orders of the doctor recommended by the Castevets lead to her becoming more and more isolated and, the more she thinks about, it more she can't help feeling that something about the Castevets - and, indeed, their whole circle - is a little... off.

In some ways, this book reminded me of The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. Both are concerned with women's agency and power, as well as pregnancy and childbirth. The part of this novel that struck me the most was when Rosemary ran to Dr. Hill with what she had discovered and he promptly rang her husband to take her home. Granted, what she had discovered does not sound rational, but there's something very unsettling about what the men say it that scene. How convincing they are. It was the foreword that actually convinced me to read this book. It gave rather a lot away and, quite frankly, if you know anything about the Hollywood idea of witchcraft, it's not particuarly subtle foreshadowing, but as the men started talking about mental hospitals and telling her, "we're not going to hurt you," come along now, dear, it's all in your head, I found myself starting to doubt. What if it's all just dreams and paranoia? What if she really is sliding into psychosis? What if it's all in her head? It's notable that it's her female friends who give her the right advice, and it's also her female friends she's told not to trust. Don't talk to your friends, says Dr. Sapirstein, they'll think your pregnancy is wrong if it's not exactly like theirs. Except, they're the ones who make Rosemary realise how wrong her situation is and start asserting herself.

This is very much a novel of the sixties and, in some ways, I loved that. I loved the way you could feel the setting in the story, through the references and the way Rosemary thought. At one point, she talks about how desperate she was originally to marry Guy and give up her independence, but now she wants it back. In other ways, it may be more than a little jarring to the modern day reader. For example, there's an instance of marital rape. Whilst Rosemary is upset and hurt by it as she feels like she has been treated like an object, she also chides herself for overreacting. At the time, rape within marriage was not recognised as a crime. That said, Guy is a fame-hungry, complete monster and Rosemary's uneasiness at the situation leaves it unambiguous who the reader's sympathies should lie with. I know some of you may be wondering how graphic this scene is, but I can't say for sure as I don't have anything to compare it to.

It's a shame about the ending. Once they all started chanting it felt overblown and rather ridiculous. And let's not even get started on Rosemary's satanic panic - oh no! The baby's lying in a black cot! This is definitely the most harmful thing about this situation! 

That said, this novel kept me reading from the first page all the way through to the very last. The witchcraft comes with a heavy dose of Hollywood Satanism, but that undercurrent of threat will keep you reading with bated breath and make you doubt your own conclusions. Suspense fiction at its best. 

Have you read any novels with pregnant protagonists?

Wednesday, 7 August 2019

Do You Have a Moment to Discuss Our Lord and Savior, Noragami Season One? (You're Watching Wednesday #3)

(Warning: Discussion of negative opinions of suicide.)

Good morning. I'm Hannah -

(- And I'm Ivy.)

And -

The feature where we talk about shows -

(- And films.)
Remember how the first post was about a historical drama? There was social commentary! We talked about women's rights! Clearly this was a trick to hook you in so that I could talk your ears off about anime. 

This week we're talking about Noragami season one, which covers roughly the first three and a half volumes of the manga by Adachitoka (disclaimer: complete guess). Noragami is the heartwarming story of a God with no shrine, a half-dead girl, and a ghost boy who reguarly turns into a sword. 

The first episode feels a bit...disjointed, somehow. Then Yukine shows up at the end of episode two and everything evens out.

(Your bias is showing.)

I'm not biased! Favourite characters? I don't know them. They're all just pen and ink on a screen to me. I laugh in the face of emotions. I haven't felt one since I was twelve.

(I respect that.)

You'd better! 

A good half of the episodes in this season focus on Yukine and how he reacts to becoming a Regalia/Shinki - a God's weapon.

From his perspective, he's died at the age of, I don't know, fourteen? He doesn't know how, doesn't remember anything about who he was, and suddenly a God's plucking him out of the air and claiming to be his master. I think he's portrayed very sympathetically here. He's essentially grieving the life he'll never get to have - family, friends, school, a future - and it's not until he realises that he can have all that as a shinki that he can heal.

Yato gets a lot of criticism in-universe for being lazy and a slacker, which is ironic because he's probably the hardest working character in the whole show. Sure, he's a comedic character, but he takes any job he can get and he goes above and beyond to get it done well. He's not a bad God to work for either. Okay, Tomone quit after three months, but that's because of the conditions. Other Gods have shrines. Yato is homeless and, therefore, so is his Shinki. The fact that she's willing to help him when he's on death's door shows that he himself can't have been too bad to her, and he cares a great deal for Yukine. Even when all of the other Gods are telling him that he's a lost cause and he should banish him, Yato is determined not to abandon him. He's also 100% aware that he's trash and, to be honest, same. Be warned, the following GIF is relatable as hell.

Hiyori kind of stumbles into the story and never leaves. After getting hit by a car, she becomes prone to stepping out of her body. She's an audience surrogate, I suppose, with her complete lack of knowledge of the near and far shores, and how the Gods work as a system. She's also got some serious fighting moves, which she picked up from being a massive wrestling fan.

Body horror aside, Noragami season one is fairly light-hearted compared to how the manga gets later on... That said, there's a fair amount of discussion around suicide. Primarily, the fact that Yato considers it selfish. Hiyori, the human, disagrees. I know there's a lot of debate around whether or not "problematic" opinions should appear in fiction and how they should be handled. (The argument usually goes that only villains should have them.) Personally, I don't think creators have any responsibility to teach people right from wrong. Like, do you want more books like Pamela? Because that's how you get more books like Pamela? I don't think character's opinions should be defined by USA-centric ideals - especially when the characters aren't American - but by their own lived experiences and the people who influence them. You know, like the opinions of real people? To put this in perspective, a Victorian who was liberal for their time when it came to women's rights would still be a complete sexist by today's standards because of the society they grew up in. Many early feminists and suffragettes were also huge class snobs. In Yato's case, he works closely with people every day who wanted so badly to live that he has no sympathy for the situations of suicidal people. The opinion makes sense for the character.

I take issue with the bullying side-plot in the episode where Yukine's issues come to a head. It's pretty common in media in general to have the bullying end when the bullied kid finally stands up for themselves. 

It doesn't work like that in real life.

Standing up for yourself can egg a bully on. Depending on how you go about it, it can also get you into just as much trouble as the bully. We live in a society that both preaches and punishes self-defence. People have literally been suspended for hitting back. We also live in a society where you're encouraged to report suspicious goings on, but all don't you dare because snitches get stitches, don't be a spragger, tell-tale twit, your tongue will split, and all the little birdies will come and have a - well. You get the picture. 

This season isn't particuarly self-contained. All of the arcs bleed into each other and the Bishamon plotline - which I believe really takes off in season two - has well and truly started by the time Yukine has settled into his role as Yato's shinki. One thing the anime has over the manga is that the filler arc at the end puts more time between Yato and Yukine getting their act together and the pay-off from that during the battle with Bishamon. It makes the build-up of their relationship seem less rushed.

If you're a big fan of paranormal romance fiction, I think you'd love Noragami. Don't get me wrong, there's a lot of action in it, but it's ultimately about the relationship between a living girl, a dead boy, and a God.

Recommend me a good ghost story.

Monday, 5 August 2019

Which Manga Should You Read Based on Your Favourite Genre?

Getting into manga is much, much simpler than getting into comics. You just start at volume one and you keep reading until you run out of volumes. Don't worry about reading them from right to left either - once you've read one, it'll come naturally.

But which manga should you start with? Personally, I started with Yu-Gi-Oh! My brother happened to spot them at my local library. We played the card game and we watched the show, so we picked up the manga. That's one way to do it - look for something you recognise - but it's also pretty easy to find something you'll enjoy just by looking around. My all-time favourite manga is +Anima, and I found that just by poking around the library shelves. You might be unfamiliar with the terms used to talk about manga - shonen, shojo, seinen, etc - but a look at the blurb ought to give you a good feel for what the story's about. The back cover will also have a handy age rating.

To help you get started, here are some recommendations based on genres you already know you enjoy.

If you like contemporary...

Try Bakuman by Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata

Bakuman is, I kid you not, a manga about manga writers and artists. Mashiro and Takagi team up in high school to create manga and the story follows them through graduation, into their twenties. There's more riding on this than success and money - Mashiro made a vow with his love interest Azuki that they would get married once she had voiced the lead character in an anime based on his manga. It's light, it's funny, it's surprisingly emotional at times, Bakuman is perfect for readers of contemporary fiction.

If you like fantasy...

Try Fullmetal Alchemist by Hiromu Arakawa

If you only ever read one manga, make it Fullmetal Alchemist. Human transmutation is illegal, and it cost Ed an arm and a leg. He's better off than his brother though - Al is now nothing more than a soul bound to a suit of armour. To get back their original bodies, they need to track down a philosopher's stone... except it's not quite that simple.
Fullmetal Alchemist spirals out into a political drama that asks just as many questions about morality and war as it does about morality and alchemy.

If you like psychological Thrillers...

Try Death Note by Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata

You've probably heard of it. Death Note was huge. Light Yagami, a talented high school student, finds a notebook that kills any person whose name is written in it, usually by heart attack but there's plenty of opportunity for the writer to get creative if they so wish. Light is horrified...for all of five seconds before he decides he's a GOD and he will PURGE THE WORLD OF CRIMINALS. He gains a rival in the form of L and the psychological warfare begins...
If you like horror...
Try Deadman Wonderland by Jinsei Kataoka and Kazuma Kondou 

This is one twisted series. Heavy on the body horror, Deadman Wonderland follows the wrongfully convicted Ganta as he serves out his sentence at the eponymous prison/theme park hybrid.

If you like paranormal romance...

Try Noragami by Adachitoka

This is an action-packed series for a romance-rec, but its ultimate focus is the relationship between Hiyori, a human girl who keeps slipping out of her body, Yato, a God, and Yukine, his shinki (weapon). 

If you happen to stop by on Wednesday, I'll be talking about the first season of the anime.

If you like retellings...

Try Magi by Shinobu Ohtaka

This Arabian Nights retelling eventually spirals into a massive political drama that plays out across a sprawling fantasy world, but at its centre is Aladdin and his magical flute. Aladdin is a Magi, essentially a chooser of the one, and he picks Alibaba as his King.

Do you have a favourite manga? 

Thursday, 1 August 2019

The Boy Who Stole My Heart (The Boy Who Steals Houses by C.G. Drews)

"Avery touches the tips of his fingers to Sam's chest. 'You. And me. We.'" - C.G Drews, The Boy Who Steals Houses, page 5

So The Boy Who Steals Houses broke into my house, stole all my chocolate, and ripped out my heart. 

It's the story of Sam Lou, a homeless teenager who breaks into empty houses so that he has somewhere safe to sleep at night. He also takes a few things here and there, because, well, a boy's got to eat, right? One night, he breaks into a butter yellow house and the family comes back. However they're all coming from different trips. Everyone assumes he's someone else's friend, and they unintentionally adopt him. The taste of family - of home - is utterly intoxicating for him. He can't stop thinking about it. And he can't. Stop. Going. Back.

Any book that mentions blood in the first sentence immediately hooks me in, but Sam managed to steal my heart within the space of the first couple of paragraphs. I don't agree with most of his decisions, but they make sense for the character and the situation he's in. He's just so vulnerable, you want to wrap him up in cotton wool. He's also a really nuanced take on what abuse can do to a person.

The family dynamics in this book were so complicated. I loved it! There's Sam and his brother Avery. Avery is autistic and, when they were kids, Sam got used to protecting him. But Avery's an adult now. He's perfectly capable of taking care of himself and making his own decisions (even if making bad decisions is a Lou trait). A lot of the tension between them stems from the fact that Sam needs Avery to need him, because if Avery doesn't need him anymore, who is he? The De Lainey family are equally complicated. To Sam, they're a picture perfect example of what a family should be, but there are a lot of them living on a meagre budget and the oldest daughter is forever getting used for free childcare. 

Overall, this is the best novel I've read so far this year. It stole my breath and punched me in the heart. Repeatedly.

What's the best book you've read so far this year?

Wednesday, 31 July 2019

July Wrap-up

This month has been... hard. I moved a long way down south for something that I think I'm about to lose (which would would be bad, very, very bad). It's been a lot more difficult than I expected. All the change has been overwhelming and people struggle with my accent. It's also managed to do what ten years of being bullied at school completely failed to do, affect my mental state. Although, let's give the ten years of bullying some credit here. They did manage to give me the social skills of a dead log.

News from the Reading Front

Nominally, I took part in The Reading Rush. I say nominally, because I didn't get any books finished until the sixth day and I never had the time to get fully involved. It's a shame because it looks like the social side of things was awesome, but it can't be helped. 

Here's what I read this month.
News from the Writing Front

It's frankly amazing what worrying about something else all of the time can do for your writing. There's no space in my head to second-guess it anymore, so it comes much more easily.

On the days where there's space in my head to do it at all, that is...

Speaking of which, it's been a while since I won Camp NaNoWriMo, hasn't it? Not anymore!

News from the Blogging Front

I started a new feature this month. You're Watching Wednesday is where I gush about TV shows and films, and read too deeply into tiny, insignificant details. I also have a comics feature in the works. We'll see how long that one takes to appear...

I actually had a You're Watching Wednesday post written for today, but the last day of the month is always wrap-up day so tune in next week for that.

 How was your July? 

Wednesday, 17 July 2019

Let's Talk About Haikyu! (You're Watching Wednesday #2)

(Note: Contains spoilers for Haikyu! If you haven't seen episode one, we at Ivyclad Ideas advise that you watch it first as this post well and truly spoils the twist.)

Good morning. I'm Hannah -

(- And I'm Ivy.)

And -

The feature where we talk about shows -

(- And films.)
Today we're talking about Haikyu!, the anime adaptation of the volleyball manga of the same name by Haruichi Furudate.

If you'd asked me three years ago, I would have said that sports anime was not my thing. Kind of ironic, as I grew up watching Yu-Gi-Oh. As it turns out, eighteen year old me knew nothing because Haikyu! is one of the best anime I've ever watched. So what is it that makes a good sports anime? Simply this, the writer has to make you root for the team. They have to get you so invested in the characters, and their motivations, and their camaraderie that you want them to win. Haikyu! does it especially well - just because I want Karasuno to win, that doesn't mean I want the team they're playing against to lose. Especially if that team is Nekoma. 

One of the things that I love most about Haikyu! is that the first episode sets up a typical sports storyline only to fake us out at the very end. You've got Hinata, who gives it his all but has had very little coaching and is considered too short for the sport, and Kageyama, a talented, but haughty player who doesn't quite understand that volleyball is supposed to be a team game. They're set up as - you guessed it - rivals. Clearly the series is going to focus on this scrappy kid climbing his way to the top of his game with the help of his teammates and, probably, becoming friends with his rival once he's beaten him. Except, no. Turns out these two losers enrolled at the same high school and now they have to work together. Hinata and Kageyama are one of my favourite character dynamics in anime and manga. Rivals to friends is always fun! These guys are competitive to the nth degree with one another, but they're also crucial to each other's success and good at picking each other up after a disappointing game. Without Hinata, Kageyama might never have learnt to work as part of a team. Without Kageyama, Hinata never would have made the starting line-up so early on.
Sugawara: "But if he was your most formidable opponent, now he's your most formidable ally."
There are lots of other fun personalities in this show too. You've got Tanaka, who talks tough but is an enthusiastic mentor, Yamaguchi, who works his butt off to polish up his serve just so he can bring something to the team, and Nishinoya, the hyperactive libero. Sports anime is, by nature, ridiculously over the top (case in point: nobody being there to catch Kageyama's toss back in junior high is played with the same gravitas as a tragic death would be in literally any other show) which makes the very existence of Tsukishima absolutely hilarious. Tsukishima treats volleyball as a club, rather than his entire reason for living. Tsukishima clearly does not realise the genre he's in. On the Nekoma team, you've got Kenma, who's unmotivated but incredibly observant, and Kuroo, who seems to rub everyone up the wrong way just by existing. Then there's Bokuto, Oikawa, Yachi... This show has a lot of characters. It is physically impossible for me to talk about everyone.

One of my (idiotic) assumptions about sports anime was that you would have to have played the sport to enjoy watching a show about it. Hence why the first sports anime I watched was Free, the swimming anime. (Side note: No way in hell would a total non-swimmer pick up butterfly of all strokes.) I got a real shot of nostalgia from the whistle for getting in and out of the pool. That's such a tiny detail! Someone did their research!

(Your nerd is showing.)

...Anyway. My point is that I was wrong, because I know absolutely nothing about volleyball and yet, here I stand, longing for another season and/or a plentiful supply of the manga books.

If you've never watched a sports anime, Haikyu! is a good place to start. The characters are compelling and you'll have no choice but to root for them!

What's your favourite show about sport? 

Wednesday, 10 July 2019

You Need to Watch Gentleman Jack (You're Watching Wednesday #1)

(Note: This post contains spoilers for Gentleman Jack. It also contains some discussion of historical attitudes towards the LGBT+ community and sexual assault.)

Good morning. I'm Hannah -

(- And I'm Ivy.)

And -

- The brand new feature where we talk about shows -

(- And films.)

This is, I admit, a terrible time to start a feature as I've just moved a long way from home and started full-time work, but it is also a feature that I've been meaning to start for a while. I can't promise that it will happen every Wednesday, but we'll see how it goes.

Today we're talking about Gentleman Jack, a heart-wrenching historical drama based on the diaries of Anne Lister (1791-1840). Her diaries were written in a code, the creation of which really showcases her intelligence. It combined algebra with Greek and the zodiac. It took a mammoth effort by Arthur Burrell and John Lister for it to finally be broken. The diary then revealed that Anne Lister was a lesbian. She was also an educated businesswoman and a keen traveller and mountaineer in an era before any British women could vote. Suranne Jones plays her so charmingly that you will gladly be manipulated into liking her, despite her flaws. 

In the show, Anne Lister rocks up in Shibden after her lover Vere has broken the news to her that she will be getting married, but not to Anne. She is heartbroken, and then she meets Ann Walker. Ann is younger - twelve years Anne's junior - and of a nervous disposition, but she's pretty, and she's wealthy, and Anne decides to woo her. This show will tug on your heartstrings. It will make you cheer. It will make you sad. It will remind you how it felt to wait a whole week for a new episode. (Side note: it's all on IPlayer right now. Have at it.) Their relationship isn't perfect by any means, but you'll be rooting for them.

To set the scene, let me give you some historical context. We tend to think of all of British history as Victorian in terms of values - never mind that our view of the Victorians is itself rather narrow - but people have always been fundamentally the same. They've had the same feelings. The same desires. The same problems. Two hundred years before Anne Lister was writing her diaries, Aphra Behn was writing poetry about erectile dysfunction. No, really. Anne herself only lived for three years of Victoria's reign. For the majority of her life, England was ruled by George IV, either as regent or as king. He was known for excess in, well, everything. Food. Money. Women. (For the record, much of the country was living in poverty.) We're talking about the time period that gave us romanticism and Austen novels. In literary terms, think of it as the fanciful thoughts of Austen's Catherine Morland VS the steadier Agnes Grey. Despite the many differences between the two eras, relationships between two men were illegal throughout both. They had been since 1533 and would remain so until as late as 1967. Relationships between women were never criminalised. This article states that this was due to a fear that a law would raise awareness and lead to more women entering relationships with other women. A lecturer also once pointed me to the way women were viewed at the time. By the time we hit the nineteenth century, the idea of the woman as a temptress had faded to be replaced by the idea of the woman as a paragon of virtue. She did not have desires of that kind, she lay back and thought of England out of a duty to her husband and her country at the expense of her own discomfort, etc. etc. Women's sexuality was, as this article puts it, thought to be "completely absent". Blame Pamela. I know I do. That said, Gentleman Jack does discuss the issue. Ann Walker's terror over hearing that two men had been hanged severely impacts her relationship with Anne Lister, whilst Anne Lister is aware that the law does not apply to her and does not think she would comply with it even if it did. She has an incredible sense of self. In the show, as she did in life, Anne believes that God has made her this way and God does not make mistakes, therefore she cannot be wrong to pursue her feelings. 

Ann Walker has easily the most compelling character arc of the show. Whilst Anne Lister is charming and likeable, Ann Walker is meeker. She is the more conventional of the two and so struggles with unwanted proposals, including one from a man who once raped her and now expects her to replace his wife. She's concerned about what her relatives think, concerned about what society thinks, and somewhat unstable in her mental health. She can't make decisions, because she doesn't want to cause offense. Ann is so relatable, because we are hard-wired to care about those things. It's easy to say that we don't, but, deep down, most of us do. She has to be so much braver than Anne to make the choice they do at the end, because Anne genuinely doesn't care. She has faith that she is the way she should be. Yes, she dithers a bit as a result, but she's stronger than she seems.

What I really loved about this show was the way that it dealt with women. In the eyes of the law at this time, a married couple were one person. Upon marriage, women surrendered all of their money and property to their husbands. Effectively they ceased to be people in their own right and became extensions of their husbands. This was true until the Married Women's Property Right was passed in 1870. Yes, that late! Anne Lister was left Shibden Hall by her dead uncle, which gives her a unique position in society. Her home is her own. Her finances are her own. She can rely on herself. She's also a terrible class snob and does not seem to comprehend that other women do not have such freedoms. Again, this is discussed in the show. Her sister, Marian, resents the fact that Anne was left everything and won't deign to meet the man she wishes to marry as he's of alower class. Mariana, a lover who Anne had believed would marry her, married a man purely because she needed the security. Elizabeth, Ann Walker's sister, is portrayed as fiercly protective of her sister's desire not to marry her husband's waster of a cousin. She herself is married to a man who is controlling and, it's implied, abusive. He believes that having children will fix all of Ann's problems, because then she won't have the time to think about herself. Ann Walker is an interesting one because she is richer than Anne (richer than Midas even), and yet she is trapped by the expectations of her relatives and society as a whole. Then there's Eugenie and the myriad issues of unmarried pregnancy, Susanna and her eagerness to marry rather than take up an apprenticeship far from her home, and Elizabeth Cordingley who speaks wistfully of the exciting days when she travelled with Anne before she had to settle... The history of women is so much more colourful and varied than we are often told. This show brought the issues present for women from multiple classes to life. 

I know that this mostly turned into a history post. I'd say I'm sorry, but I'm not. You can never have too much history.

(Amen to that.)

I strongly recommend you hop over to IPlayer and bingewatch this show in its entirety. It's a story of women striving for what they want, struggling to understand their own desires, and trying to carve out their own space in the world at a time when a woman was defined by the men in her life. The romance is beautifully done, the heroines are each impossible not to empathise with, and there's already a second season confirmed.

Recommend me a TV show based on a historical figure.